Individual decisions that we take matter. Whether it is divesting from fossil fuels or eating less meat, our individual choices become important drivers for mitigating climate change and pressuring governments to enact more climate-friendly policies. While our personal choice to consume meat and deforestation may seem to be unrelated, they are in fact deeply intertwined in the Amazon rainforest.

The Amazon rainforest is a source of great biodiversity, but it also serves as an important carbon sink (large natural environments which absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere). However, especially in Brazil under President Jair Bolsonaro, the Amazon rainforest is being deforested at an alarming rate. According to the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), a project that uses five satellites to monitor the Amazon, there have already been four major fires in 2020 in deforested areas in the state of Mato Grosso in Brazil. One of the most decisive factors driving this deforestation is the Brazilian meat industry.

Map showing recent fires and deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. Source: MAAP

According to Amnesty International, from 1988-2014, 63% of the deforested area in the Amazon has been converted to cattle pastures. The deforestation of the Amazon to make way for these pastures both destroys a carbon sink and sends new emissions into the atmosphere from the cattle. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, global livestock produce around 14.5% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, and cattle represent 65% of these livestock emissions.

Food Emissions - Big Facts
Livestock contribute 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions. Source: The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR)

Brazil is the world’s biggest exporter of beef, and profit is driving the push towards deforestation. In 2019, the equivalent of two soccer fields worth of area in the Amazon was destroyed every minute. There must be action now, and this action must listen to indegenous voices.

In a 2019 op-ed in The Guardian, Raoni Metuktire, the chief of the indegenous Kayapó people in the Amazon, talked about the importance of humanity sharing the same resources and alluded to the dangers of neglecting climate change. He said,

“We all breathe one air, we all drink the same water. We live on this one planet. We need to protect the earth. If we don’t, the big winds will come and destroy this forest. Then you will feel the fear that we feel.”

Metuktire shows clearly that humanity must put its long-term interests of safeguarding the planet ahead of making money. The problem of addressing Amazonian deforestation and climate change in general is encapsulated in the tragedy of the commons concept. In 1968, Garett Hardin wrote The Tragedy of the Commons, which laid out how, in certain cases, everyone acting in his or her individual interest leads to collective calamity for the group as a whole. Individuals need to stop acting in their own interest and start working collectively to address the deforestation of the Amazon and climate change more broadly.

If the Amazon is to be saved, then the world will need to drastically reduce meat consumption, which will reduce the demand for meat. This reduction in demand will drive forward lower emissions by freeing up cattle pastures for other uses like investing in solar energy farms and replanting trees. Driving down demand will require individual consumer choices like advocating for reducing meat production and by eating less meat. The problems of climate change like the deforestation of the Amazon require us as individuals to come together collectively and change our habits. We must change our personal habits to consume less meat.

Another important way that we as individuals can make a difference is through getting our power from renewable sources. Common Energy makes this possible by allowing us to connect to community solar farms and displace fossil fuels in the electrical grid with clean energy. Over the course of twenty years, a person who spends on average $200 per month on electricity will prevent 328,320 pounds of carbon emissions by subscribing to a community solar farm. Reducing meat intake also prevents a staggering amount of emissions. If everyone in the US only reduced their consumption of livestock by a quarter, there would be a reduction of 82 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year. In the United States, livestock consumption is also tied directly into land use like in the Amazon, and implementing the quarter reduction would free up 23 million acres of land for planting trees to create new carbon sinks.

Thus, our personal choices have a big impact on the future of our planet. We should try to cut back our meat consumption to save the Amazon and reduce our carbon footprint. We should also invest in community solar to help as many people access clean energy as possible. Individually, our decisions may seem small and inconsequential but when we act collectively (and avoid the tragedy of the commons), we can drastically reduce carbon emissions and mitigate climate change.

Main claim: Global demand for meat is driving the deforestation of the Amazon. Cutting back on meat consumption is crucial to protecting the Amazon. Listen to indegenous leaders and protect the Amazon by personally consuming less meat and switch to renewables (avoid tragedy of the commons)

  • The Amazon is being aggressively deforested in Brazil (this has gotten the most media attention), but there is also deforestation in other countries
  • Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP) is a project organized by the organization, Amazon conservation that uses five satellite systems (Landsat, planet, digitalglobe, sentinel, and perusat) to monitor Amazon deforestation in Peru, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Bolivia.
  • On June 17, there was already the fourth major fire of 2020 in Mato Grosso in the Brazilian Amazon
  • This deforestation is directly tied to the exploitation of natural resources and making space for cattle pastures. Some of these activities include gold mining and cacao farming.
  • The main issue with the cattle ranchers who are burning the Amazon to clear the way for their cattle pastures is that they are destroying a forest, which plays a crucial role in storing carbon emissions, while at the same time creating more cattle pastures, which contribute greatly to CO2 and methane emissions
  • Livestock emissions are estimated to be around 14% of the total human emissions, in large part because of the methane that is produced by microbes in cow stomachs. Even reducing people’s meat consumption would allow the re-growth of natural environments like the Amazon because there would no longer be need for as many pastures
  • “You have to change the way you live because you are lost, you have lost your way. Where you are going is only the way of destruction and of death. To live you must respect the world, the trees, the plants, the animals, the rivers and even the very earth itself.”  
  • “we all breathe one air, we all drink the same water. We live on this one planet. We need to protect the earth. If we don’t, the big winds will come and destroy this forest. Then you will feel the fear that we feel.”
  • We should listen to Metuktire. We only have one planet and we must protect it. We have to put protecting the earth over profits and that means cutting back on meat consumption and saving the Amazon